Tapestry Opera’s original 2019/20 season was to have included a remount of Gareth Williams’ and Anna Chatterton’s Rocking Horse Winner which premiered to positive reviews in May 2016. This is quite unusual as all too often, new Canadian operas, even the successful ones pretty much disappear after an initial run. Needless to say the staged show didn’t happen but, happily, Tapestry decided to make an audio recording instead.
Three of the four principals from 2016; Asitha Tennekoon, Keith Klassen and Peter McGillivray reprise their original roles while Lucia Cesaroni replaces Carla Huhtanen as Ava. This time around the house is represented by Midori Marsh, Alex Hetherington, Stephen Bell and Korin Thomas-Smith.
Naturally, listening to an audio only recording focuses one on the text and music. Here the libretto is tight and direct and tells the story clearly. The music is complex and interesting on several levels. The first thing to say is that it serves the text well. There’s no need for a printed libretto. Every word is clearly intelligible. Williams also gets a lot of colour and different moods out of the limited forces of piano and string quartet. For example, the music for the autistic young man Paul, sung by Asitha Tennekoon, has an uncomfortable, driven quality expressed in a sort of minimalism not unlike some of John Adams’ music. By contrast, the depressed mother gets much more lyrical, almost elegiac music. I think the substitution of Cesaroni for Huhtanen emphasises this. She has a lusher sound which seems more appropriate to a character no longer young; somehow generating more pathos. Then, of course, there’s the weird, chattery, whispering of the house. It all fits together nicely and supported by characterful singing and excellent diction from everybody it serves the work about as well as an audio version can. The instrumental playing is first class and Kamna Gupta co-ordinates her forces skilfully.
From a technical point of view the recording is terrific. It’s crystal clear with a very well defined 3D sound stage. It’s a digital only release available in a range of formats but at the “top end” is the comparative luxury of 96kHz/24 bit .wav; i.e the same standard as from top end labels like Chandos. If you have the gear it’s worth the bigger files! Documentation is limited to a synopsis but it’s really all you need and, in any case, there’s more information here. The album can be purchased via Bandcamp for a minimum C$15.